Mara Zabari, Organizational Systems, PhD

Mara Zabari

Mara Zabari

Organizational Systems Student

One of the most dangerous things about health care is human error.  A pharmacist picking up the wrong bottle or a doctor forgetting to wash her hands can lead to unnecessary complications – even death.

You don’t have to imagine how many lives could be saved if such mistakes could be reduced – or how much less our health care system would cost.  Saybrook student Mara Zabari is imagining it for you.  A PhD candidate in Saybrook’s Organizational Systems program, Mara is leading a  project to reduce patient harm in hospitals in three states by 40 percent.

“Hand washing is a great example,” she said.  “It’s one of the most basic things.  We’ve known what works for a very long time, have great protocols in place for when doctors and nurses need to wash their hands … and people don’t do it. The compliance rates have been abysmal.  That’s one of the things we’re looking at:  what in the culture, and the way people work together, is keeping hospital personnel from performing this basic step?”

Mara started her career as a nurse, but quickly moved into hospital leadership roles.   “After three years of nursing I was becoming very disillusioned,” she remembered.  “I saw how difficult it was for my colleagues, who were very inspiring in their dedication to their jobs, and how many institutional barriers they had to overcome to do the work that the patients needed.  I saw that it lead to burnout, and to cynicism, and to people leaving the field, and I think that's what really motivated me. That if I wanted to be part of the solution, I needed to put myself in a position where I could have more influence."

She completed a graduate degree in Healthcare Administration, and spent the following 15 years in a variety of leadership positions.

There came a point, she said, where going back again to graduate school would be necessary to support her desire to influence the needed changes in the healthcare system.  But she wasn’t ready yet.

“I stumbled upon Saybrook as I was looking for programs that were around Organizational Development from a systems perspective,” she said.  “I wasn’t able to enroll at that point because I was putting two daughters through college, but five years ago when I wrote my last check for them I decided it was my turn.”

Now the Director of Integration of the Partnership for Patients, a national initiative to reduce patient harm across the country launched by the Obama Administration, Mara says her work at Saybrook “has been instrumental to me having a more rigorous approach to understanding systems and applying it to my organizational work."

"Saybrook has not only exposed me to work that I've been able to apply in my career and move forward, but it has given me a vision of how I can position myself within my field to have the kind of influence I want,” she said.  “I don't believe I'd be in my job today if it wasn't for Saybrook.   Mentoring from the faculty, and interactions with my fellow students really expanded my ideas of what was possible, and to let me bring the scholar piece to my practice.  Now I'm working at the state level, and connecting with people all across the country who are doing research on this area of patient safety."